Posted by: patriciamar | April 5, 2019

Peaceful Tokyo under a Cherry Tree

I learned tonight that the sakura season in Japan lasts approximately two months.

An older man was sitting next to me at Popeye’s for about an hour, and eventually, he built up the courage and… spoke to me in really fast Japanese.  Of course I couldn’t understand, so his bravery grew, and he pieced the English together, asking me about California, why I was in Tokyo and then about cherry blossoms.  He said his dream was to follow the whole season, starting in Okinawa in March and then moving north to Kyushu and Hiroshima and then Kyoto and Tokyo and Saitama and then to Hakodate and northward in Hokkaido.  The look in his eyes was so sweet.  He really wanted this dream, and I think he will get it.

Many, maybe most people know that cherry blossoms are popular and abundant in Japan.  What they likely don’t know is how magnificently beautiful it is.  Only once you have experienced it can you understand how many cherry trees there are here.

My Google Maps is practically lit up with little cherry blossom symbols, indicating hotspots: today.

It’s very helpful.

Sakura season started last week for me with Christina.  We did the evening shift at the Meguro River Cherry Blossoms Promenade.  This includes several blocks along the river with pink lanterns hanging and glowing all along the path.

Which reminds me, did you know that sakura viewing is a contact sport?

Even 8 days ago, before peak season started, the crowds were unreal.  There are over 30 million people in Tokyo, so I suppose “somebody” is going to start early (somebody = 10,000 people).  Around the Meguro River, there were police keeping the crowds under control and helping cars pass.  Along the main stretch the pedestrian traffic was one way only! And that is after having taken over the street where there would normally be car traffic!  

Add to that the fact that numerous sidewalk vendors were selling plastic flutes of champagne over strawberries, and you seriously have to watch where you’re going.  At times Christina and I both found ourselves taking pictures of the people taking pictures.  It was nuts– beautiful, but nuts.

Two nights ago I had a different experience. I have never experienced a more peaceful Tokyo. 

I went to Chidorigafuchi Park and ended up on the wrong side, the isolated side, where there was very little light and just a few late, midweek picknickers.  I found a spot on a bench (alone!) and had a can of Asahi that was labelled in pink for Sakura season.  I’ve had this beer before, and I was pretty sure it was just normal Asahi, but that night, it tasted like cherry.  I sat by a tiny stream and watched across the park as tiny Japanese dogs played and picnic parties of friends laughed and talked.  

I didn’t want to leave.  The feeling in Chidorigafuchi Park reminded me of a place I’d been once long ago that was both comfortable and a stranger. 

Eventually, I made my way across the stream, up the hill to the lookout for the Chidorigafuchi lighted promenade.  I still wasn’t exactly in the right place, but this spot, too, was magical.  I followed a couple up some uneven steps towards a glow and then suddenly, I was looking down at the moat, both sides of the water lined in cherry trees in bloom, every one of them basking in the light of a bright spotlight.  Once at the top, you could look across and see the crowds walking slowly through the path taking pictures.

I made it to the correct spot on my third try, and I walked under a half mile trellis of ancient cherry trees.  Chidorigafuchi is the park on the western side of the Imperial grounds.  The trees line the imperial moat, as they have for quite a while.  Because of their age and the type of cherry tree, the branches weep down the sides toward the water.  Imagine the reflection.  (There are policeman with loudspeakers there as well, by the way).  I walked slowly through the pinkly covered passage, and I kept thinking again and again of Anne of Green Gables– The Pink Way of Delight.  (Though I admit Anne is often in the back of my mind, thinking of something romantically creative.)

As I finished the path, I turned back to look once more, and as I turned toward Hanzomon station, the lights went out.  It was 10 p.m.  on a Wednesday, and it was time to go home.

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Nope!  My cherry blossom adventures are not done yet.

I’m always working a little too much, so on occasion I can work just a few hours on Thursday and Friday.  This week Thursday, I spent the morning walking the Meguro River Cherry Blossoms Promenade (this time in daylight), from Gotanda to Nakemeguro and back.  I was able to spend the morning strolling,  sans champagne rellickers, and I even picked up some cream-filled sakura mochi along the way.

Today was the Sumida River walk, where there have been cherry trees for several hundred years.  In fact, according to a sign that I read, Mrs. President Taft (that’s Nellie), visited this area as first lady and loved it so much that the Japanese government sent a gift of cherry trees to Washington, D.C. for her, the start of the now famous D.C Sakura Season. 

Tomorrow, I might go further outside of Tokyo.  The older gentleman from Popeye’s told me that we still have time next week to gaze and enjoy hanami, so I will continue on this weekend to hit and revisit as many Sakura spots that I can.

As the days progress, I imagine it will become more and more like snow.  I was thinking about this on my morning Meguro Cherry Blossoms Promenade stroll, and sure enough, on my way back down the river toward work, a little girl ran back and forth on the sidewalk desperately trying to catch cherry blossoms with her little claps, just like you would with the first snow.

Spring!

 

*Click “Spring” to see way too many (maybe) sakura photos from all of these walks.

 


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